The 10 Things I Learned From Reading 100 Days of Growth
As a startup founder, you encounter a whole lot of advice when it comes to growth hacking. But the truth is this: when you’re in the thick of the daily grind, a lot of that advice goes straight over your head.
That is, until you start identifying patterns. Advice that’s consistently repeated; ideas that recycle and grow each time they’re shared; themes that seem to tie disparate pieces of advice together.
For me, that was the experience of reading 100 Days of Growth, a free ebook from my friends Sujan Patel and Rob Wormley. The book is a guide filled with -- you guessed it -- 100 tips for growth hacking as a startup or small business. While some of the advice given via these tips may be familiar or old hat, having them packaged in one place can really help you with your own growth plan. This is a solid handbook that you can reference again and again as you feel stuck in your growth or you need a refreshing idea to regain momentum.
As I read, I couldn’t help but notice themes that kept popping up, weaving the 100 tips together. While I highly encourage you to get your hands on a copy and read it through, I want to share today the 10 major lessons I learned from reading all 100 a few times through:
1) Everything Old is New Again
That’s right. Just like the ‘80s leggings that have made their triumphant return (but thankfully the hair hasn’t… yet), traditional marketing lives on. Just because we are at the forefront of new technologies (I will admit to not being on Snapchat) doesn’t mean everyone else is (again, I’m not on Snapchat) -- and it certainly doesn’t mean that “old” strategies are no longer effective.
So why put all our eggs in one basket? 100 Days of Growth features plenty of tech-friendly hacks, but what stuck out for me was the importance of tactics that are tech-free:
- Company swag: because everyone loves free stuff.
- Handwritten thank you notes: snail mail is suddenly spontaneous.
- Trade shows + VIP events: nurturing relationships in person hasn’t lost its appeal.
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings: the authors refer to this as the “never eat alone” tactic, and I tend to agree -- you have to eat everyday anyway, right?
- Visibly displaying company phone numbers: yes, people still do use their phones to call -- and “live” conversations often lead to sales.
- Sending surprise gifts: again, free stuff -- and surprises!
Because these tactics are “hard to measure” and are often considered “old school”, many startups hesitate giving them a shot. But beware of the shrug off and reconsider the swag bag.
2) Videos Are Outpacing Most Other Content Forms
Hmmm, maybe I should have just recorded this summary as a video? I would likely get more exposure that way. Videos “have become one of the primary ways new and existing businesses educate consumers on their products and services,” explains Sujan Patel. Ok, so I’m a hypocrite in this moment, but I will agree that videos are a great way to give and receive information. Even with a ‘face for radio,’ people want to see and hear you.
Videos are great for:
- Demoing a product: “unboxing” the experience for the customer so they can fully picture how your product or service functions.
- Sharing your elevator speech: explainer videos are a fantastic introduction to your startup’s story, mission, and message.
- Creating a value-based series: another avenue to offer free stuff, this time in the form of information, either based off of something new you’ve created or existing information (i.e. repurposing a blog series).
- Providing a meet and greet: spotlight your team or dive behind-the-scenes to give your potential customer a relatable look at what’s behind the curtain.
If your biggest issue is getting started, you’re likely thinking too big. Try starting small by creating a quick tutorial that’s easy to share in the form of an animated GIF.
3) Planning is Succeeding
The old adage “when you fail to plan, plan to fail” certainly rings true for a startup. Fly by the seat of your pants for too long, and you’re bound to crash.
Let’s apply this first to your content: from content ideation to editorial calendars and promotion strategies to upcycling, your content -- from your blog posts to your graphics and your social posts to your videos -- this all has the potential to have an incredibly amplified reach if you plan for it.
A huge part of planning is research. In fact, we’ll venture to say you can’t plan without some form of research first. Keep an ongoing keyword list based off of effective keyword research (yep, they’re still relevant, and as important as ever), in order to create niche-specific, demographic-targeted content that speaks to your brand and business objectives.
And don’t forget your competitors when it comes to your research and planning. As Patel and Wormley share, “Smart business owners know how to find and use this data to convert more customers, increase web traffic, and build brand buzz.” Of course, it starts by collecting the right information and using it effectively.
While the areas in which you can plan vary widely, walk away with this: always make time for research and planning. (And usually, plan to take more time than you think you might need. #meta)
4) Email is Still the Frontrunner for Increasing Conversions
An email list truly is gold. Heck, it may be worth more than gold when it comes to your startup. Let me just say this: having a large email list of relevant contacts, customers, and leads can exponentially grow your business. It’s more powerful than great advertising, a great social media presence, and even a great car. (For real.)
There are many ways to use email as a way to grow, though, so pay attention. Sujan and Rob summarized it like this:
- Emails are key to creating a great first impression: welcome emails and onboarding series are the perfect foot-in-the-door that your customer needs to you, and you need to your customer. Offer gated content to build that list, and earn some loyalty by offering free, valuable content in the process.
- Emails are key to customer retention: sending relevant, relatable, and actionable material that’s catered to your list is great for nurturing your customer relationships. Throw in the “rare CEO/owner/founder email” down the line and your customers will know they’re in an elite group.
- Emails are key to upselling: while there’s no secret that it’s easier to sell to customers who are already in your corner, using your list is the “warmest” way to do just that.
If your list has stalled because of inaction on your part, re-engage that list with the final tip in 100 Days: the “win-back” email, or if you consistently have low open rates, then light a fire with an email targeted at inactive users. Expect some drop off -- it’s normal and healthy in creating an engaged audience.
A final note here: you don’t have to have a massive list to use email effectively. Cold emails to influencers, partners, and potential customers are key to kickstarting your overall list. When you do send those cold emails, make sure you have a kick ass email signature.
5) Content is... Stories + Social
There’s no doubt that content marketing is all that and a bag of chips. (Or a bottle of wine -- I prefer that. And it is that good.) But here’s what’s easy to forget about it: it’s not just about creating content, it’s about creating epic content that incorporates storytelling and promotes actual social engagement.
Integrate social media buttons on your content so it’s easy to share; encourage user-generated content to get your audience involved; drive conversions on your about page by sharing stories; go out and ask for social proof, then share it.
A handful of Sujan and Rob’s growth hacks fell into this category (and we talk about content marketing all.the.time. on our blog), but here’s the gist: tell your story and make it social. Content is king. And it’s here to stay.
6) It’s All About the Customer
And I think it’s safe to say it always will be. But in case you needed more proof, here are a few things to note: so much of business is about making a great first impression. Your potential customers are the ones running into that first impression, and it’s their perception and opinion that will make or break you. (Sujan and Rob share that it takes “the average person about 15 seconds or less” to make their first judgment.) So how can you make a great first impression and keep the customer at the forefront?
- Write “promise, not feature headlines”, optimize your subject lines, and personalize your CTAs: speak to your customer, not to the product or service.
- VIP beta launches and events: actively engage early adopting customers and encourage buy-in by asking for feedback.
- Make landing pages concise: you don’t have a lot of time, and neither does your customer.
- Responsive design: it’s no longer a nicety; it’s a must. Know how your customers are engaging with your site, product, and content, and make it responsive.
- Personalize the experience: from first names in an email to an onboarding process that sets them up for success, make the experience unique to their needs.
Even when a customer is no longer a customer, they should still be top of mind. Sujan and Rob remind us of the importance of an exit interview when a customer leaves or cancels. Remember this: you stand to gain more than just a profit from your customers.
7) Growth and Change Isn’t Optional; It’s Optimal
If you have an allergic reaction to change, you’re in the wrong business. A startup is constantly evolving -- and in order to evolve in the right direction, it requires measurement, benchmarking, and a permanently open mind.
A few of the strategies shared in 100 Days of Growth align with this philosophy:
- Always be testing: that’s A/B testing, of course. Also known as split testing, Wormley and Patel recommend it when it comes to your homepage, CTAs, headers, email subject lines, sign up forms, and even your Facebook ads.
- Ask for feedback: if there’s something you’re wondering when it comes to your customers, just ask. Set up surveys and gather immediate feedback after purchases. Track your Net Promoter Score to identify your promoters, passives, and detractors.
The authors recommend finding that “aha” moment that makes a customer act -- but in order to do that, you have to be observing and asking -- and you have to be ready to grow and change based on it.
8) Part of Sales is Science; Most of It Isn’t
There is some serious science behind sales -- it’s how we know that progress bars work (humans are naturally inclined to complete unfinished tasks), why exit-intent pop-ups are used; why gamification is such a big business and targeted social ads are a worthy investment.
Patel and Wormley touch on these tactics and more in 100 Days, but they also share a slew of tactics that are sales-related: telling your story to sell more products; creating a free tool that converts; setting up live chat on your websites; garnering endorsements from “heroes”, and more.
But whether you’re inspiring urgency via a countdown or capitalizing on holidays to send out relevant offers, the long story short here is this: focus on being helpful, first and foremost.
9) Relationships are everything
We preach this nonstop in PR, but relationships are important in all aspects of your business, especially when it comes to growing it. But they’re not just limited to your Twitter friends.
- In-person relationships: yes, this is still a “thing.” Host VIP events; attend industry-related shows; grab coffee with potential partners or customers.
- Build partnerships: on or offline, collaboration is key. Patel and Wormley recommend promotion swaps, marketing and integration partnerships, and co-branded infographics, to start.
- Be present: remember that relationships are a two-way street. Reach out to top industry influencers to feature them on your blog; visit others’ blogs and comment there; find niche-specific forums and participate.
- Use the free trial: especially for SaaS companies, the free trial is an open door to a preview of what the relationship can be.
The beauty of the internet is that it makes the world your playground, but if you find yourself stalled cultivating relationships yourself, don’t underestimate the power of an ambassador program, where you recruit loyal and engaged customer to refer a friend.
Networking is more than business cards and niceties. Focus on building the relationships that’ll drive your startup forward.
10) Establish Your Thought Leadership (quirks, and all)
Sustainable growth requires driving your stake into the ground. And while thought leadership certainly can’t be established overnight, small steps can be taken on regular basis that’ll naturally establish your expertise and showcase your thought leadership for the future.
Patel and Wormley offer a few different tactics that are primed to help build your credibility:
- Use your blog: but more than just sharing your regular, keyword-backed content, include a FAQ blog post series where you answer frequently asked questions, create industry reports that establish you as a go-to resource on trends in your niche, and create weekly round up posts that include top resources and/or influencer quotes.
- Show your quirks: they call it the “let’s be weird” marketing campaign, where you opt to build a little buzz by showcasing your quirks. We love to say that normal gets you nowhere, and it’s important to remember that quirks and vulnerabilities are especially relatable -- and we all know startup culture is full of them.
- Teach a class: with a plethora of platforms out there for online learning, what better way to establish expertise than to teach? 100 Days recommends Udemy, but we also love Skillshare and CreativeLive.
Remember this: thought leadership also extends to your employees. Establish your credibility and expertise by listening, offering your employees the chance to learn, and keeping them happy.
Never stop learning
When it really comes down to it, what 100 Days of Growth taught me is to never stop learning -- well beyond 100 days. It’s only with an open mind and an openness to learning that we can constantly change and ultimately grow.
I’m in it for the long haul. Are you?